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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   14 February [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 14

My dear Hooker

I succeeded in persuading myself for 24 hours that Huxley’s lecture was a success. Parts were eloquent & good & all very bold, & I heard strangers say “what a good lecture”. I told Huxley so; but I demurred much to time wasted in introductory remarks; especially to his making it appear that sterility was a clear & manifest distinction of species,2 & to his not having even alluded to the more important part of subject. He said that he had much more written out, but time failed.3 After conversation with others & more reflection I must confess that as an Exposition of the doctrine the Lecture seems to me an entire failure.—   I thank God I did not think so, when I saw Huxley; for he spoke so kindly & magnificently of me, that I could hardly have endured to say what I now think.

He gave no just idea of natural selection. I have always looked at this doctrine of Nat. Selection as an hypothesis, which if it explained several large classes of facts would deserve to be ranked as a theory deserving acceptance; & this of course is my own opinion.— But, as Huxley has never alluded to my explanation of Classification, Morphology Embryology &c, I thought he was thoroughily dissatisfied with all this part of my Book. But to my joy I find it is not so & that he agrees with my manner of looking at subject; only that he rates higher than I do the necessity of Natural Selection being shown to be a vera causa always in action.— He tells me he is writing long Review in Westminster.—4

It was really provoking how he wasted time over the idea of a species as exemplified in Horse5 & over Sir J. Hall’s old experiment on marble.—6 Murchison was very civil to me over my Book after Lecture, in which he was disappointed.—7

I have quite made up my mind to savage onslaughts; but with Lyell, you, & Huxley I feel confident we are right & in long run shall prevail. I do not think Asa Gray has quite done you justice in beginning of Review of me.8 The Review seemed to me very good, but I read it only hastily.

I am very glad to hear that you are thinking of a general work—do not be in a hurry.9 Do give a resume on propagation of Crytogamic plants: it would interest general reader & pocket your pride & compile! It will be a precious difficult Book to write.—

When we meet I will pay 14s with thanks.— What a poor sneaking fellow L. Reeve must be.—10

Adios | I am tired. | Your affect | C. Darwin

Henslow comes here tonight for 2 or 3 days. He is going to Anniversary of Geolog. Soc.—   By the way I fancy I shall be cut up by Phillips.11


Dated by the reference to Thomas Henry Huxley’s lecture on CD’s theory at the Royal Institution, which took place on 10 February 1860.
Huxley’s outline for the lecture is in the Imperial College Archives (Huxley 41: 10). The printed version of the address was only an abstract (T. H. Huxley 1860a).
[T. H. Huxley] 1860b.
T. H. Huxley 1860a, pp. 195–6.
The geologist James Hall heated limestone until it turned into marble in order to demonstrate the igneous origin of such rocks. Huxley’s remarks on this experiment do not appear in the published abstract of the lecture.
Roderick Impey Murchison, director-general of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, did not accept CD’s theories. Writing to the geologist Robert Harkness, Murchison stated that he denied all CD’s inductions and remained ‘as firm a believer as ever that a monkey and a man are distinct species, and not connected by any links,—i.e. are distinct creations.’ See Geikie ed. 1875, 2: 322.
An opening note in Asa Gray’s review of Origin in the American Journal of Science and Arts stated that the concluding part of the review of Hooker 1859 was being deferred ‘for want of room’. Gray further stated: ‘Fully to understand the foregoing Essay of Dr. Hooker, it should be read in the light of Mr. Darwin’s book. The Essay is a trial of the Theory’ ([Gray] 1860a, p. 153).
CD refers to the copies of Hooker’s introductory essay of the Flora Tasmaniæ (Hooker 1859), presented to him at the end of 1859. The publisher Lovell Augustus Reeve had set a high price for the volume (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1860]) and his conditions for publication meant that Hooker had to pay for any presentation copies (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, [8–11 April 1859], n. 3). An entry in CD’s Account book (Down House MS), dated 6 April 1860, records payment of 14s. to Hooker for ‘copies of my Pamphlet.’ CD’s copy of the separately printed essay (Hooker 1859) and of the larger work (Hooker 1855–60) are in the Darwin Library–CUL.
John Phillips, president of the Geological Society, was to give his presidential address at the anniversary meeting of the society on 17 February 1860. Contrary to CD’s expectation, Phillips discussed Origin in a temperate tone (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 16 (1860), Proceedings, p. xxxvi). CD expressed his belief that Phillips was ‘dead against’ his views in the letter to John Phillips, 14 November [1860].


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1855–60. Flora Tasmaniæ. Pt 3 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM Discovery Ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. 2 vols. London.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Huxley’s Royal Institution lecture on Origin [10 Feb 1860, Not. Proc. R. Inst. G. B. 3 (1858–62): 195–200] an "entire failure" as an exposition of CD’s doctrine.

R. I. Murchison very civil.

CD counts Lyell among the converted.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 40
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2696,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8